Cannery Row And Grapes Of Wrath

Cannery Row And Grapes Of Wrath

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John Steinbeck is a brilliant storyteller capable of crafting such vibrant and captivating literary works that one can effortlessly exit their own life and enter another. John Steinbeck has a passion for divulging the flaws of human nature and he is not afraid to write about the raw and tragic misfortune that plagued the lives of people like the Okies in the Grapes of Wrath and residents of Cannery Row. He was also a brilliant commentator who contributed brilliant opinions on the political and social systems in our world. In heart wrenching words he tells us the story of peoples lives, which were full of love, corruption, faith and growth. However in the novels of Cannery Row and The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck specifically attempts to convey the thematic elements of socialism, survival and the role of women to blatantly present the lifestyle of down trodden migrant workers and the diverse ecosystem of prostitutes, marine biologists, store owners and drunks in a way that is unapologetic and mentally stimulating.
Socialism is a political ideology and lifestyle in which people work collectively to better themselves and society. In Cannery Row John Steinbeck uses Mack and the Boys, a group of unemployed friends to present an aspect of socialism. " Once in the Palace Flophouse the boys set about furnishing it …. The Palace Flophouse grill began to function. The boys could all sit in front of their door and look across the track and across the lot and across the street"(16). This quote shows the guys working together to build a socialist microcosm and though Mack and the boys are not related they are a family that live together in a fishmeal storage house and they share the constant pursuit of survival. The boys also share simple pleasures of drinking and having a good old time. The men are not selfish and they live a life with more happiness than any wealthy man because they are not consumed with egotistical thoughts and greed. Steinbeck shows how socialism can work effectively when the dominant presence of capitalism is nowhere to be found. Socialism is also beautifully depicted in The Grapes of Wrath where the migrant workers all provide for each other by sharing food, knowledge and the common goal of survival. Steinbeck definitely uses the Joads to show a product of Socialism.

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Ma hates to refuse food to anyone and Tom and Al gladly help the Wilsons with their car trouble. The migrants understand that they are all connected by their struggles and passions. They strive to make their environment as harmonious as possible because they choose to provide and cooperate for the whole of society. Sadly capitalists are destructive because they become concerned with profit and owning property. Capitalists tend to lose sight of the importance of generosity and compassion. Socialism is used in The Grapes of Wrath to represent the mindset of thousands of migrant workers all over California. Steinbeck flawlessly captures the meaning of socialism through his description of the roadside interactions shared by migrant families. " They huddled together, they shared their lives, their food and the things they hoped for in the new country… In the evening a strange thing happened the twenty families became one family "(249). This shows the migrant people joining together to make the best of their situation and Steinbeck really wished to convey the mutually beneficial relationship that socialism can provide.
Survival is another element that frequently appears in Steinbeck's work. In Cannery Row we see how the need for food, shelter, money and social acceptance can lead a human being into prostitution, suicide and other immoral acts. Steinbeck brings us into Dora's world and her whorehouse in which young women are willing to sell their bodies to live. Though this lifestyle is made as comfortable as possible by Dora's constant efforts, prostitution is still considered an illegal and unacceptable way to make a living. We also observe even more challenging situations like that of a man named Horace Abbeville. Horace is a man with six kids and a wife, they all live together in a tiny fishmeal storage room. However his financial troubles are over his head and so he decides to offer Lee Chong, the local grocer his small living space to pay off his debt. After living with the burdens of trying to support and provide for his family the pressure becomes all too great and he shoots himself over a pile of fishmeal. Suicide is also observed in a situation in which a man is unable to survive socially. The former bouncer of Dora's restaurant is presented as a lonely guy always yearning to fit in with Mac and the boys. Sadly his only interactions are with Dora and the girls and he feels that people see him as a "dirty pimp". His exclusion from the social world led him to commit suicide to escape his despair. Steinbeck also conveys the desire to survive through Mack and the boys who are willing to lie, cheat and steal in order to thrive in the competitive world around them. For a long while they steal from Lee Chongs Grocery store to get their supply of food and whiskey and they also take advantage of Lee by staying in his storage room so they can "protect" it yet they were indeed forming a parasitic relationship with Lee Chong. " They looked upon it as little more than shelter from the wind and rain, as a place to go when everything else had closed or when their welcome…they had not loved it then but Mack knew that some kind of organization was necessary particularly among such a group of ravening individuals." (39) Again we see the desire to survive in any way possible and even though the storage house is old and smells of fishmeal they accept the opportunity to live as free individuals with open arms. In The Grapes of Wrath survival is equally if not more difficult. Like Abbeville and his family, men are faced with the burden of providing for their families and even giving them a taste of food is a difficult feat. In order for migrant workers to survive they must migrate from place to place in search of jobs. However gas is costly and men spend more money looking for jobs than the jobs actually pay them. Men are forced to accept ridiculously low wages in hopes that cents can buy enough food to prevent starvation. "While the Californians wanted many things …… the new barbarians wanted only two things- land and food" (300). Steinbeck is trying to convey that the simple luxuries accessible to so many farmers and Californians were nearly impossible to attain for a migrant worker. In most cases jobs are so hard to come by that hundreds of families are plagued by sickness and death and many people do not survive the challenging times. In some cases survival drives people to care only about themselves. This can be observed when Ma is making stew and she has only enough to feed her family. It is not in Ma's nature to be greedy however in this case, survival of the fittest is prevalent and she must set her generous ways aside to look out for the best interest of her family.
The final theme that best conveys Steinbeck's message is the roles he assigns to women. In Cannery Row Dora Flood is a tenacious and strong Madame who built her own successful business. " Lee Chong's grocery... was a miracle supply… a man could find everything he needed or wanted to be happy... the one commodity Lee Chong did not keep could be had across the lot at Dora's." (9) This quote conveys a woman that does not live in the shadow of a man and someone who is dominant force who holds control over her life and financial prosperity. Even though society looks down upon her because of her occupation she is a generous and kindhearted woman who sticks to her values. Though her business has to do with selling sex she makes sure that her girls do not drink or talk to men on the street and she runs a clean place that is free from vulgarity. Her acts are honorable and selfless and she gladly pays off people's grocery bills during the depression and does what she can to help out with the influenza epidemic. Steinbeck viewed women as intelligent, strong and significant people of the world and Dora is definitely a positive representation of his views. Ma is strikingly similar to Dora Flood because she is also a tender and compassionate woman. She is also considered inferior because she is an Okie, which was considered "white trash" by society's standards. When things get difficult the men of the family depend on Ma to hold things together "You got to go, you got to look after the whole family"(294). This quote by Pa shows his dependence on Ma even though throughout the novel he is embarrassed that she dictates powerfully over the family. When Cannery Row faces trouble, people know that Dora will be willing to donate time and money to set things back in order. Ma is often called on to take control of the family and though she tries her best to respect the male ego, she is not afraid to correct errors.
John Steinbeck is an incredible author who extracts his ideas from real places and people. His goal is to represent reality and though some of the subject matter he discusses is tragic and painful to comprehend it really gives the reader an appreciation for life because of Steinbeck's depiction of depressing times. He wished to convey the life of migrant workers and the society of Cannery Row down to the last detail. His work provided the world with some of the most valuable commentary on social and political issues but his specific descriptions of socialism, the innate human goal for survival and the importance of strong women in the world really provides the reader with a rich history of culture that can help one better understand the corrupt and inhumane things in life and possibly affect change.
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